Who: Clara Weale, designer, educator, perfumer and the director of A Library of Olfactive Material – an open access resource for scent, based in Glasgow. The Library offers people the chance to interact with the means and materials of perfume, which are usually hidden out of sight.
Clara supports people who want to use scent as a means of creative expression – be that in the creation of a scent, or simply helping them to explore the hundreds of amazing aromatic molecules that make up our olfactive landscape. She works as a scent designer for clients including historic properties, design festivals, museums and galleries, leading projects that use scent to connect people to hidden narratives and to make concepts tangible.
In late 2020 Clara launched her own perfume brand, Early Modern. With the Library closed and client projects on hold, she decided that for one month she’d work on as many rough sketches of different accords and compositions as possible, before choosing which ones to take forward and develop. We caught up with Clara to find out more.
Today I’m wearing Life of the Party by Early Modern. It makes me feel anticipation, and quite energised. I wear this a lot when I need to get things done, it sort of powers me up and stops me being too introspective.
It’s a lively but quite transparent scent. Immediately a little bit leafy, with Orange Flower and citrus notes, and beautiful Jasmine Sambac coming into focus. A slight creaminess from squashed petals extending into a woody base, a little hint of cardamom. Abstracted sandalwood notes come to the fore and hang around past their bedtime. Ice cubes clinking against the side of a glass, the sound of
a party as you wait outside to be let in.
The creation of this scent began with an abstract ‘hyperactive’ sandalwood accord I’d made. As I was trying it out on my skin I’d often get a sense of it being worn on someone else standing nearby, or that feeling when you get back home with someone else’s perfume inexplicably on your clothing. It evoked a lot of nostalgia for parties, and in particular the feeling of getting ready for a party when you are young – you feel like your whole life could change based on what happens that evening.
Exploring that nostalgia, the visuals, sounds and emotions that came to mind (I always make a playlist to capture the mood while I’m working on a scent), I focused on materials that evoked that sense of excitement as well as something of trying to ‘play it cool.’
Fragrance is so important to my daily life. I’m absolutely fascinated by the sense of smell, and what it means to us. Without interpretation, a scent is just a group of molecules without meaning. Interpretation is based on personal and cultural experience and meaning – and so meanings become attached to materials, molecules and to scent. To be successful in creating scent for an audience you need to appreciate this fact, and to be able to step outside of how you personally interpret something to be able to consider the meaning it could carry for others. I also love how the act of scenting yourself becomes a vehicle for self expression, for augmenting or emphasising personal identity.
If a break comes up where I’m not working on a perfume formula then I love to wear perfumes by other people. I find that I need a decompression period first though, or my brain just gets stuck on picking them apart technically. I will always wear perfume on holiday, linking those memories and the experience of a new place to a scent.
I do scent my home, more so in the winter months or when I’m in need of a change of scene. I love Cire Trudon’s Spiritus Sancti candle. It’s a wonderful cathedral-type incense scent, but very airy, with white florals and a strong dose of aldehydes. My partner and I both naturally gravitate towards quite resinous perfumes, and so I think scenting our home with Spiritus Sancti feels suitably fancy and intentional, and like a spatial extension of those favourite perfumes. I bring fresh flowers in as often as I can, I particularly love catching the scent of sweet peas or stocks across the room.
Starting a perfume brand during lockdown has been a strange experience – no launch party, no ‘smell this!’ But also quite freeing as all bets are off. I’ve been running online classes for the Library, sending out vials of materials for groups of people to get together on Zoom and smell, which has been great as talking to other people about scent and sharing it with them is my first love. But for the most part I spent last summer sitting alone in the Library, listening to true crime podcasts and working away on hundreds of perfume trials and modifications. I think Early Modern could only have been born of being forced to spend that time distilling my ideas in such a concentrated period of time.
How to communicate the way a scent makes you feel, from a distance online, is an interesting challenge for sure. I think that creating a really strong identity for a fragrance, and showing the world that it evokes, is key. I think an increasing number of people are coming to realise the potential that fragrance has to transport you, and are becoming more open to using scent playfully to do so.
Recently I’ve been fixated on a particular scent I haven’t been able to access. That smell of a wood panelled room, books, old dust, a little bit of coal smoke infused into everything, uninhabited for years but preserved. I suppose a year with such a focus on domestic and immediate surroundings has left me craving something a little bit more grand. There is an amazing house in Arbroath called Hospitalfield, and the dining room there has this 17th century embossed leather panelling on the walls (which of course smells fantastic.) The scent of this room in particular is on my mind a lot at the moment – I’ve been trying to capture something of its spirit for an upcoming perfume release.
Early Modern can be found here
Images of Clara by Alexander Hoyles